Galapagos Islands

Biographies have interested me since I was a child.  Each week my classroom at school would venture to the library for about 30 minutes.  I was always jealous of the girls who were good readers.  They seemed to polish off their reading quite easily while mine was a slow slog.  It is still that way for me. I learned early on that I liked history and biography.  Each week I would check out a book about some famous person. 

I remember reading about Thomas Jefferson and how he was challenged to a swim race by an Indian.  The Indian was stronger and a better swimmer but Jefferson won the race because he paced himself.  So what?  I don’t know, it is just something I remembered when I read his biography.  Same goes for Henry Ford when he built a car and could not get it out of the garage.  He had to tear down the garage door to get the car out.  How about Abraham Lincoln liking to wrestle?  Just quirky little things that I remember.

            One day in the biography section I picked up a book called Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle.  At least that is what I recall.  I had never heard of him.  He was an Englishman who had journeyed to an island that had all kinds of strange animals.  It opened up my mind to people who study plants and animals.  I guess at the time I just called them scientists because I had no idea what a botanist or a zoologist was.  I also had not realized prior to reading the book that there were giant turtles.  I don’t remember anything special about Darwin and also do not recall the book saying anything about evolution.  I suppose it did, but it did not register on my radar screen.  I just remember him encountering a lot of weird animals and writing in his book to categorize them.

            I choose to place Galapagos Islands on the game board of Treasure Trove because it has an unusual name and because they are unusual islands.  I was hopeful it would be of interest to kids who play the game.  I never really knew why they were called the Galapagos.  Sounded like one of the strange animals that was found there.  Well, that is partially true.  Galapagos in Spanish means saddle.  The Spanish sailors who discovered the islands encountered very large turtles that had shells shaped like a saddle, hence they named the islands after the large tortoises.

            The Galapagos is an archipelago of about a fifteen islands 60 miles west of Ecuador, discovered by the Spanish in 1535.  English pirates frequented the islands for centuries waiting to raid Spanish galleons of their gold and silver.  Charles Darwin arrived in 1835.  There are about three dozen indigenous species to the islands which are now a national park of Ecuador.       

Portuguese Man-of-War

I just came back from my family’s annual trek to South Padre Island for some ocean time.  We live in West Texas and we always enjoy our travels to the beach in late spring and the mountains of New Mexico in late summer.  I love swimming in the warm gulf waters of South Padre.  I am always up early for a morning swim, the first person in the water as far as I can see on either side down the long stretches of beach.  I like to swim out and play in the waves that are over my head.  I love being tossed around and feeling the powerful waves cascade over me.  After an hour or so I am ready for a good breakfast.  My wife reminds me that early hours are shark feeding time, but I can’t help it, the allure of an ocean swim is too much for me to turn down.  Later in the morning I go swimming with the rest of the family, and then we also like an evening swim.  Needles to say I have no trouble sleeping at night because I am beat.  But the next morning I am ready to go again.  It is a wonderful three day visit that I look forward to each year.

            The ocean’s diversity of life is nothing short of amazing.  When I travel to Cozumel to scuba dive I enjoy the many colored fishes among the reefs.  At Cozumel the water is clear and you can see for hundreds of feet.  Such is not the case in the waters off the Texas coast.  The water is anything but clear.  You cannot see where you are stepping or what is around you.  This obviously makes most people very uncomfortable entering the water much less swimming out over their head.  I occasionally step on a crab, or I feel the seaweed rub against me, but these are no big deal.  However, what I do not like are jellyfish.  Fortunately, I do not see many at South Padre.  If jellyfish are in the water in abundance, as has been the case at other Texas beaches, it can make think twice about getting into the water.  Their sting does not feel good.  Another animal whose sting I do not like is the Portuguese Man-of-War.  They are colorful with a bluish purple hue, and they are odd looking. 

            The warm waters of the Gulf attract Jellyfish and Portuguese Man-of-Wars.  I see these washed up on the shore, not in large numbers but several dozen over a quarter mile stretch of the beach.  I continue to swim but there have been times when so many jellyfish are in the water that I have not been able to swim. I have been bit a number of times by these sea creatures and it does not feel good.

When European explorers first encountered the warm waters of the Caribbean they noticed a lot of strange sea life they had never seen before.  One was a purple creature that sort of floated in the water because it had clear air filled sacs that looked like the masts of the ships they sailed in.  Warships of Portugal were called Portuguese Man-of-Wars, hence the term the mariners used to name this strange ocean life they encountered during the 16th century.  Other historians believe the sea creatures were named after the helmets of Portuguese conquistaqdors. 

            Portuguese Man-of Wars are found in warm oceans waters all over the globe.  Their tentacles can stretch over 100 feet, and give a very strong venom, almost as potent as the venom of a cobra.  They float on the ocean carried by the wind, sometimes in groups of hundreds.

            Sea creatures are just a few of the interesting animals encountered around the world by players of Treasure Trove, a board game where players travel the world in search of treasure. 




Some animals just capture our imagination, or should I say, our fear.  Piranhas are one of those creatures that definitely fit into this category.  I cannot recall exactly when I first heard of piranhas, but had been told they were flesh eating fish that attacked in groups eating other fish, or whatever else is in the water, to the bone.  I think my oldest brother mentioned piranhas when I was young.  In Junior High I saw a movie at school about the Spanish explorers.  One of the men went swimming in the Amazon, and guess what?  Let’s just say I was convinced to never swim in the Amazon.

            I have always been fascinated with the diversity of animals on our planet and how each of the continents has its own unique, often strange, animals.  I love watching documentaries on wildlife, or shows such as River Monsters.  When I created the board game Treasure Trove, I wanted that sense of adventure and exploration to be evident as players travel the world in search of treasure.  I deliberately mentioned some of the exotic animals indigenous to the various continents.  Some of these I placed with drawings on the game board, while others I placed within the situation cards.  I placed the following card in the stack of cards for South America.


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black rhinoceros in Africa

            The rhinoceros is one of my favorite animals to look at.  I grew up in San Antonio and we visited the zoo often.  They have always had a good number of rhinos to view.  In the 1950’s they used to let us ride the elephants but I don’t think that is done as much today.  I also always liked the hippo exhibit.  They never did much but eat and poop, but I found them fascinating, even more so today.

            My favorite movie scene as a young child involving rhinos was one of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies when boy Tarzan is charged several times by a rhino with an enormous horn.  He dodges the rhino several times until Tarzan comes to his rescue.  A few years later my family went to see the movie Hatari with John Wayne.  Excellent movie for a family.  If you have kids 8 to 12 years old they would enjoy seeing it.  There are several lengthy scenes involving rhinos that I think are the best I have ever seen filmed.  When I’m flipping channels and come across a documentary on rhinos it is always a must see for me.  Any zoo I visit that has rhinos I am always eager to get to that particular exhibit.

white rhinos in africa

white rhinos in Africa

  When I was making the board game TreasureTrove one of the situation cards for Africa involves rhinos.  It reads as follows:


                 The game includes 72 situation cards.  Some give you treasure, some give you money, some send you to various destinations on the game board, some cause loss of a turn, and some give the option to move to move 1 to 6 spaces on your pathway.  It is a good imaginative experience for players of all ages. 

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Golden Elephant

white with formal dress




It would be quite a spectacle to indeed see something made of gold as big a as an elephant.  History has recorded many large statues and objects carved in wood being overlaid in gold, so in that sense it would be easily possible, especially in Southeast where elephants are revered and part of their cultural history. 

King Solomon’s Temple had many large columns and structures covered with gold.  Historians belief the fabled golden statue of Zeus indeed existed and was gold overlayed a wooden statue.  My favorite image of a large golden object is described in one of the Old Testament books called Daniel.  King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was said to have built a 90 foot golden statue of himself for all to bow and worship.  Babylon was one of the ancient world’s largest empires.  It had swallowed up all the other empires around it.  It was indeed powerful, rich and was at the height of its power under King Nebuchadnezzar.

I was watching the history channel one evening and caught an interesting show called, “Around the World in 80 Treasures.”  The narrator is a British man who spent months traveling the world researching famous and legendary treasures. 

He is a great host and I really enjoyed being invited along on his journey.  This particular episode covered part of Southeast Asia where he visited a museum in Thailand that houses a Golden

golden elephant

Elephant.  I anxiously waited to see it, and sure enough there it was.  Not as big as an actual elephant by any means.  In reality, 0nly about two feet in size.  It is a treasure to the people of Thailand.  In fact, that same museum houses a treasure-trove of other golden artifacts.

Legend has it that there were actually originally two such elephants. However, one was stolen many years ago.  Let us hope it is still around somewhere but the reality is that it was probably melted down many years ago and is long gone.

Speaking of elephants, what about the White Elephant?

When I hear, “white elephant,” I think of a party where each participant brings an item that neither they nor anyone else would want.  I have never actually been to such a get together but I hear they can be fun.  I suppose a gift exchange takes place and the enjoyment is laughing at the ridiculous items brought to exchange with no ill will intended.  Other than that, I’m not sure when the term came into use in America.

white elephantTo the peoples of India and Southeast Asia a white elephant has a totally different connotation.  Elephants have always been revered in the cultures in that part of the world.  Monarchs of ancient Siam kept white elephants believing it brought peace and prosperity while helping them rule with justice and power.  On the other hand some have written that the Kings of Siam would give someone of importance that had had fallen into ill repute a white elephant in order to task them with the challenge of taking care of the animal. 

Albino elephants are extremly rare and are considered by modern people of Southeast Asia to be a holy omen if you see one in the wild. In 2004, one was found on the island of Sri Lanka and is considered a “new national treasure.”

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